When Martin announced with a heavy heart at the beginning of the year that he wouldn’t be delivering The Winds of Winter before the debut of Game of Thrones Season 6, it was a huge disappointment to fans. Though there were those who were supportive and told Martin to write at his own pace, there were just as many who raged that the books were pointless now that the show was going to spoil them.
But Martin is a wily storyteller, and even as early as last year, he was hinting that perhaps, as the show sped past him, his books were still fluid, and that he had even thought of a twist that the show would be unable to do. Since the beginning, he has always said the books and the show would diverge from one another, comparing it to “the butterfly effect” where one small choice in Season 1 could have large, unforeseen consequences years down the line. In this case, the twist he had thought of involved a character whom the show had killed off in a definitive manner, while in the novels, said character was still alive and well.
Well, with all the time in the world now to finish The Winds of Winter, Martin confirmed he has indeed decided to include that twist. Speaking to IGN about it, he said: “I have decided to do that. Yes, I have decided to do it. And will you know it? I don’t know.”
Personally, I think this is the smartest thing that Martin could do right about now. Earlier in the interview, he admits that he wishes things we different. He wishes he had been done with the series before now. He wishes the whole thing were set in stone so that his readers would know the ending. But that’s not how things worked out. He’s a slow writer, he’s always been a slow writer, and TV just cannot move that slowly.
But what this affords him the chance to do, as the creator of the series, is to pull “creator’s prerogative,” as it were. After all, whatever some fans may say, he is *not* writing novelizations of a TV series that’s set in stone. He is the one in the driver’s seat. He doesn’t have to stick to what the show does just because they got their “first.” And though the show is it’s own thing now, following a basic narrative structure he laid out, all those delightful details that a show can’t take the time to add (and probably would have had to cut even if they had been written first) are his to dally with. And that includes adding in twists with characters he has the ability to keep alive on the page but are dead onscreen.
By forcing the books to diverge completely from the show like this, Martin has now given fans two ways to experience this story: the near term straightforward path of the show, and the more meandering alternate timeline of the books. Both may both reach the same endpoint, but they certainly aren’t getting there the same way. That’s great news for fans of both version of Westeros. And even though I’m eager to see Season 6, knowing that Martin is determined to tell his own story his own way makes me just as eager for The Winds of Winter.